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Arcadis warns that Brexit could turn skills gap into a gulf

30 Nov 16 Analysis by Arcadis suggests that Brexit could lead to a reduction of 215,000 people in the UK construction industry.

That’s equivalent to 14% of the workforce just disappearing. A Brexodus.

Arcadis believes that a potential ‘hard’ Brexit scenario – such as extending the points-based system currently in place for non-EU migrants – could see the number of EU construction workers entering the UK fall at the rate of attrition. This would mean that EU nationals could leave the industry at a quicker rate than they can be replaced. If this were to play out, Arcadis estimates that almost 215,000 fewer people from the EU would enter the infrastructure and house building sectors between now and 2020.

(Actually, Arcadis’ analysis has come up with the remarkably precise figure of 214,542.)

Even with a ‘soft’ Brexit, the construction workforce could again see a steady reduction in numbers. Arcadis has analysed a scenario whereby quotas are introduced or policies implemented on a sector-by-sector basis, allowing for a degree of EU migration into the sector and come up with that forecast that 136,081 fewer EU nationals would come to the UK to work in construction.

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Arcadis director of workforce planning James Bryce said: “What started as a skills gap could soon become a skills gulf. The British construction sector has been built on overseas labour for generations, and restrictions of any sort – be it hard or soft Brexit – will hit the industry. Missing out on over 200,000 people entering the workforce could mean rising costs for business, and much needed homes and transport networks being delayed. In recent decades, there has been a massive push towards tertiary education which has seen a big drop in the number of British people with the specific skills we need. If we cannot import the right people, we will need to quickly ramp up training and change the way we build.

“Be it hard or soft Brexit, we need to take back control of the construction industry. The likes of robotics and off-site manufacturing have never been taken as seriously as they should, but they could well prove the difference. So, too, could training. Working with schools and colleges is one way of taking control but this takes time. In the short term retraining and turning to the unemployed and underemployed could be a significant benefit to an industry under significant pressure.”

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